Samsung, Microsoft in SSD talks

Improvements to Vista anticipated. Agam Shah reports

Samsung is in talks with Microsoft to improve the performance of solid-state drives on the Windows OS.

The speed and way in which SSDs fetch and cache data are different than hard drives, says Michael Yang, flash marketing manager at Samsung.

Samsung hopes to work with Microsoft to boost SSD performance on Windows by discovering optimal packet sizes for data transfers and the best ways to read and write files, for example.

"We have been so used to hard drives for so many years, Windows is optimised for that obviously," Yang says.

Windows is designed to fetch and cache data using rotating media, but by working with Microsoft, Samsung wants to distinguish SSDs from hard drives on the Windows OS, Yang says.

It is generally thought that SSDs could replace hard drives, but both differ in data sizes and how Windows should treat both, says Gregory Wong, an analyst with Forward Insights.

There is a mismatch in the way Windows Vista handles data sizes on hard drive and SSDs, Wong says. Vista has been optimised to handle hard-drive data in smaller chunks. In contrast, the sector size — also known as page size — of SSDs are larger than hard drive sector sizes. That results in inefficient SSD performance when slotted into a disk drive bay, Wong says.

"My guess is that [Samsung and Microsoft] are maybe working on the OS recognising an SSD with a 4KB sector size instead of a hard disk drive with a 512-byte sector size," Wong says.

SSDs were not considered ideal for defragmentation because of limited read-and-write capabilities, Wong says. However, Samsung and Sun in July jointly announced an 8GB SSD that bumped up durability from 100,000 read-and-write cycles to 500,000. That brings defragmentation in SSDs closer to reality, which could improve its caching and provide quicker access to data. Sun plans to put SSDs into storage products later this year.

Samsung will release 128GB SSDs in the third quarter, and by the end of the year it will put 256G-byte SSDs into production, Yang says. The density of SSDs are doubling every 12 months, Yang said. That means a 512GB SSD could be coming soon, although Yang neither confirmed nor denied it.

"It is a matter of cost, demand and requirement," he says.

Samsung is also working to reduce power consumption and developing controller algorithms to boost the longevity of SSDs, Yang says.

Despite the continuous improvements, price-per-gigabyte could continue to be an issue when comparing SSDs to hard drives, Forward Insight's Wong says.

"The cost per gigabyte of a 2.5-inch SSD is something like five times that of a hard disk drive," he says. The price difference mainly applies to the consumer space, where PC makers like Apple, Dell and HP offer SSDs in laptops.

Samsung's Yang says the company is working with PC makers to develop SSD form factors that could fit into different laptop models.

In the server space, customers may bypass price for performance, says Michael Cornwell, lead technologist for flash memory at Sun. Server-grade SSDs usually perform better in certain environments like Web 2.0, where they are comparatively faster and more power efficient than hard drives.

Web 2.0 applications could drive the adoption of SSDs in the enterprise, Cornwell says. Delivery of distributed Web 2.0 applications — such as cached photo content — may be delivered quicker from SSD nodes than hard drives, Cornwell says.

Many server vendors have announced plans to include server-grade SSDs in systems, including Hewlett-Packard. Samsung is working with PC makers and server vendors on the implementation of SSDs, Yang says.

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